I recently had a work-related trip to São Paulo, and I was worried that I wouldn't have much time to do any sightseeing. Fortunately, we found a free day, and I managed to get out to the small town of Embu das Artes.
Embu became first-associated with the arts in 1920, when the painter Cássio M'Boy, a lover of the caipira lifestyle, arrived in the town. Cássio won an international award in Paris in 1939, and from that point, on, Embu became a magnet for artists.
You'd be wise to start your visit at Conjunto Jesuítico Nossa Senhora do Rosário -- a national heritage site. The building was built in the 17th century, and includes the Nossa Senhora do Rosário church and an old Jesuit residence. Normally, I'm not a fan of religious art, but the age and architecture of the building, and the fact that the site currently houses a sacred art museum with fantastic religious sculptures from the 17th to 19th centuries. It's worth a visit.
Just off the plaza in front of the museum, there's a animal shelter that rescues adoptable dogs. At first, I was wondering why there were so many dogs running around the town. Then I learned that that was the strategy of the rescue shelter--they hoped to convince people to adopt the dogs by having people meet the cute little critters while wandering through the streets of town. Smart strategy, actually. I made a couple of new canine friends, myself on that day.
From there, you should explore the art market and the phenomenal shops around the main square and side streets. Some of the shops sell liquor that's labeled with stickers that have been printed out on a laser printer. I'm sure it's perfectly safe to buy their, um, "whiskey." What could possibly go wrong? But with so many crafts, interesting art and gorgeous flowers, this could be a great place to shop for a souvenir.
Just don't make the same mistake that I made. I planned to make the rounds of all of the shops and stands, checking out the arts and crafts and souvenirs, and making a note of where I might want to return. I had a short list of two or three things I wanted to buy, but then we decided to sit down for some lunch...and mojitos. And we had so much fun chatting and catching up, and the drinks were delicious, so we had a second round, and the next thing we knew, it was time to leave, and I didn't have time to go back to any of the shops!
So, the good news is that I saved some money. The bad news is that I returned from Embu empty-handed. Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to go back, soon!